Surprise! Some speakers at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington this weekend are giving Mitt Romney the President Obama treatment when it comes to his faith.
Four years after Romney confronted his religion in a major address during his last run for the White House (and took dings for his faith from his evangelical rival Mike Huckabee), Romney’s Mormonism is again in the spotlight. And so is the discomfort with the faith among some in the social conservative base here.
What’s striking about this new round of attacks on Romney’s faith is how similar they sound to the attacks on Obama’s Christianity you heard at conservative forums of the past. Some on the evangelical side have doubted Obama’s commitment to his faith at best, and accused him of being a secret Muslim masquerading as a Christian at worst.
An essential part of those attacks was the idea that America is a Christian nation and needs to be led by a Christian that understands that. And that’s exactly the kind of criticisms Romney is facing. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, the detractors on stage here at VVS have said (which is more credit than Obama often got), it’s that Christians really need a Christian to lead them. And - despite its allegiance to Jesus Christ - Mormonism just doesn’t fit the bill, some here say.
“I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent - to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney,” Dr. Robert Jeffress, the man who caused a stir Friday when he introduced and publicly endorsed Rick Perry here, told CNN.
He also called Mormonism a cult.
Jefress wasn’t the only committed anti-Mormon to take the stage at VVS. Leading up to the event, there was much hype about Bryan Fischer, the radical evangelical known for saying Mormons don’t really have the same Constitutional rights as other faiths, taking the stage right after Romney on Saturday.
He used a similar line to Jeffress, saying the founding fathers — he mentioned John Jay specifically as Jeffress has — expected a Christian to lead the nation.
Before Fischer took the stage, Romney took a defensive posture.
“Our government should respect religious values, not silence them,” Romney said “We will always pledge our allegiance to a nation under God.”
And then this:
Our values ennoble the citizen, and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate. The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us - let no agenda, narrow our vision or drive us apart.
He also took a roundabout shot at Jeffress — and at Perry for standing with him Friday.
Though somewhat subtle, there was no mistaking that Romney was pushing back on the Mormon attacks hard. There’s a good reason for that: polling shows they could be a problem for Romney in the base if they catch fire, but most Americans are ready for a Mormon president.
Perhaps with those GOP base numbers in mind, as the Mormon talk spread Romney’s fellow candidates didn’t exactly leap to his defense. Rick Santorum said he doesn’t think being a Mormon is being part of a cult, but he declined to condemn those who do. Newt Gingrich declined comment entirely. Herman Cain said it was “inappropriate” to call Mormonism a cult, but made it clear he did not want to talk about the subject at all.
Team Perry, in some ways the instigator of all this thanks to their approval of Jeffress as a speaker, also declined to condemn the attacks on Mormonism, but said Perry himself doesn’t think the faith is a cult.
This is a similar situation Obama has faced when elected Republicans are asked to respond to the charge that he’s not of the Christian faith. And Obama had to step up and push back hard on concerns about his Christianity at points during his last campaign.
Seems like Romney’s ready to take a page from that book.